Name: Martin Taxt
Nationality: Norwegian
Occupation: Microtonal tuba player and composer
Current release: Martin Taxt's Second Room is out via Sofa.

If you enjoyed this interview with Martin Taxt, visit his official homepage for more information. He is also on twitter, and Instagram.  

Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound and architecture and the relationship between them? What were early experiences which sparked it?

I have for many years been interested in more conceptual sides of performing music. 10-15 years ago, I did a few solo concerts where I enjoyed having a performative twist to the set. In 2013 I started my work with the art collective Verdensteatret.

Verdensteatret is a group of artists from many different fields, like sound art, visual art, video art, painting, and poetry. Their philosophy is to develop the performances collectively, with all artists influencing all the art forms. In the beginning, it was confusing to have people from other disciplines offer their perspectives about my compositions and improvisation. But after surviving more than 12 months of production time, the result became quite unique.

Many of the processes leading to a new performance have started with a research trip to a place often far away from Norway. Spending time together in a new place, trying to grasp the uniqueness and spirit of a place often leads to interesting outputs.

In 2016 I curated a concert series with an architect friend of mine in an old supermarket in Stavanger. The architect, Tor Olav Austigard was listening to one of my projects, Microtub (with Robin Hayward and Peder Simonsen) and inspired by the floating music, he designed an installation consisting of 36 black painted doors enveloping a shallow pond inside the supermarket.

[Read our Robin Hayward interview]

For the first concert of this series, Microtub played inside the pond. It became a pivot point for me where I understood that it could be worth investing more time working with space and sound and investigating the possible relations between music and architecture.

Which artists, architects, and approaches captured your imagination in the beginning?

Some musical memories that have stuck with me are SISU performing Persephassa, a piece for six percussionists by Xenakis at Ultima 2003, Toshimaru Nakamura, Tetuzi Akiyama, Taku Sugimoto and Mark Wastell playing extremely soft improvisations on Foldings (cd from 2006) and Lasse Marhaug’s monumental solo concert at Angelica Festival in Bologna in 2011.

[Read our Toshimaru Nakamura interview]

What's your take on how your upbringing and surrounding have influenced your sonic and architectural preferences?

Growing up in a house designed by a relative of my mother I became aware of architecture as a profession and art form early.

My parents got this house built when I was around five years old, and I have vivid memories of the building site and the years living in that house. This architect, Helmer Hofset, was a contemporary of the more famous Sverre Fehn and was a professor at the faculty of architecture at NTNU in Trondheim. He was well respected for his work with wood and modular design inspired by Japanese architecture.

Growing up in this wooden house certainly has colored my architectural preferences.

You can see pictures of Architect Helmer Hofset's home here and of Hus Helle.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage?

I didn’t write music myself between 2007 and 2018. One of the reasons for that was probably that it was a time in my career when I was searching for a personal voice or improvisational language. It took some time to navigate from being a jazz music student to where I am today.  

Some of my closest musical partners like Robin Hayward and Toshimaru Nakamura have of course influenced my work, both as a composer and improviser. They have background from the Berlin reductionist scene and the Japanese onkyo scene.

I rediscovered the joy of composition only a few years ago when I found the connection with architecture. Hopefully, I can follow that path for a while.   

For there to be connections between architecture and music, I would assume both disciplines can not be reduced to their visual or sonic dimensions. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

I cannot say that I have strong synaesthetic experiences with music or other art forms, but I am very fascinated by people who have. On the other hand, I am very conscious of the connection between the performance and the space. Music can very often lose my attention if it doesn’t connect to the space it's performed in.  Also, thinking about a specific space can spark my own creativity.

I recently made a couple of release concerts for Second Room. The album was recorded in the main concert hall at the Music Academy in Oslo, a room with few or no religious connotations, whereas the two concerts in Oslo and Trondheim took place in churches. The church organ is central in the piece, so it was a necessity to perform in churches.

While performing the music in the churches I felt that the music became stronger and more meaningful. Although I didn’t write this music with religion or spirituality in mind, it certainly made a difference to the music when moving from the Music Academy to the church room. My grandparents were both Catholics, and I have experienced quite a few Catholic services.

Parts of Second Room involve physical movements from the performers. They are walking across the space and also playing handbells. Somehow, this section reminds me of Catholic rituals, but I was not conscious about that when writing the music.  

What do architecture, sculpture, and/or design add to your perception of music? How does the effect of music change when it is combined with architecture, light and projections?

The well-used quote from Goethe that architecture is frozen music could just as well be turned the other way around. Music is floating architecture.

I’m not against the idea of adding visual elements to music. It can create the illusion of being surrounded or help the audience getting that musical kick. But I also think it is very important to think of music as something that doesn’t need help from other art forms.

Architecture can project an image, just like music can. As such, it is part of the storytelling process. What kinds of stories are being told, would you say?

Exploring architecture is a constant movement between the designed space, its surroundings and its consumers. Just like with music, there is not one story, but endless individual stories.

What can architecture express what music can not – and vice versa? How can they mutually enhance each other?

Music and architecture have in common that they can envelop you completely. Music with sound waves being reflected from all angles, if performed in a closed space. Architecture with its three-dimensional nature, where to fully experience it, you need to move around in the building, taking in the work from all possible angles.

I’ve been thinking a bit about how architects deal with different materials.  They can focus on material of high quality (oak, marble, gold) or combinations of different materials (composite materials) or using local material. On my album First Room I tried to think of the instruments as three different materials.

The bass representing wood, the tuba representing metal and the sine waves representing glass. I think these definitions gave the piece a clarity that I’ve been missing in my earlier attempts.

When it come to your approach to composing, are there techniques or approaches that lead to a kind of music that has more of a sculptural or architectural feeling? How do you work on the “architectural” aspects of your music?

Both First Room and Second Room are based on a modular concept.

First Room used a floor plan for a Japanese tatami room, and with Second Room I fixed three different sized rectangles which I assembled in a grid system, almost like paving, where the length of one of the rectangles sides represented the size of an interval.

I have also been interested in interior spatial design, and how architects are working with concepts of inside/outside, function/non-function etc, and how this could be transferred to music.

Xenakis, probably the most famous architect-composer, would often apply mathematical models from architecture to his pieces. Does this interest you as well? If so, in which way?

Yes, of course what Xenakis was doing in the 50-60s was very interesting. His background as an architect, and the fact that he was working very closely with Le Corbusier makes it even more special.

I have tried to apply simple mathematical models in some of my music, but my mathematical talent is lacking, so I haven’t been investigating that to great depth.

Many have claimed that both architecture and music have a rhythm to them. While I understand the point, I have always found it a bit hard to truly regard these two “rhythms” as being the same thing. How do you personally see that yourself?

Obviously, rhythms in music and architecture are not the same thing. Music and architecture are two different art forms with their own ontological and epistemological definitions.

In music the temporal dimension is always essential. It’s the temporal distance between musical components that creates the rhythm.

In architecture it is rather the combinations of different materials or proportions and the relation between them that create the rhythm. I like to think that rhythm in architecture has a more abstract dimension to it.

Two other dimensions often associated with architecture and music are proportions and dynamics. Do these mean something for your work as well?

This is very much connected to what I already wrote about rhythm. I can add that while working on my master thesis on music and architecture a few years ago, I enjoyed reading about Gadamer’s ‘concept of play’, where he understands the word ‘play’ as a constant to and fro movement.

I think this idea of play as a movement between any element is interesting. It could be used to define phenomenons in nature as well as social interactions between people.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?

The Norwegian architect theorist Christian Nordberg-Schulz was very passionate about music. In one of his essays he is mentioning the three parameters that architects often use. Outline, elevation and ground plan. He writes that he likes to think about these parameters as melody, harmony and rhythm.

For me I find it more interesting to think of those parameters as orchestration, space and time. Composing Second Room I was very aware of those parameters. In most of my music the orchestration is way more important than the actual melody.

What role do acoustics play for the way we experience a) interior spaces and b) cities? What conclusions would you draw from this for the consideration of acoustic factors for architectural decisions?

Acoustics is with us everywhere and heavily influences our psychological state. I think most people notice how an empty room differs from a room filled with stuffed furnitures, books etc. You can shape the aural architecture by choosing material, size and shape of walls and ceilings.

Architects are for sure aware of this, and try in most cases to create spaces where people feel comfortable. Luckily, they don’t always succeed.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like designing a building?

Yes, I hope it’s different.

Most architects are working within very strong limits. They have customers, real estate investor and developers that just want to make profit and ordinary people that just want a simple apartment to live in. I think there are very few architects that feel the same kind of freedom that composers and improvising musicians do.

That being said,  I am not completely sure if this freedom is always a good thing. Personally, I like restrictions, if they’re not too many.